There is probably nothing sadder than people using social network sites and blogs to constantly big themselves up. I think it's a useful tool for that, and I certainly don't mind reading what people are doing, but it can be taken too far, and I'm all too aware of how annoying shouting "I, I, I!" can be. BUT I (I, I) keep getting told by people that I don't promote what I do enough. And for that matter, some of you may not be aware of what I've done, etc etc. Well sometimes you have to listen to your friends, and so I'm going to write this post to explain why I wanted to DJ in the first place, why you might want to hire me, and why I "might" not decide to do it.
I started DJing in the early 2000s (or naughties) because I was going to a lot of festivals and gigs as a music journalist and I wasn't really hearing the DJs play what I wanted to hear. I was also reviewing and doing features on a lot of global fusion and electronica acts, and I wasn't really getting much feedback about it (you'd be amazed how much you don't as a writer - unless you write something negative and then people get very animated...). AND I was starting to get involved in making compilations, so I needed more promotional avenues. The answer seemed to be DJing, and so after a very surreal goth-rock birthday party on 9/11 (yes ... 9/11) I found myself at the Union Chapel in Islington (in London for you non-Brits) DJing in front of around 1000 people at Oojami's Hubble Bubble Festival. It was very surreal DJing in a church next to a pulpit pumping out oriental 4/4 beats to a lot of Arabic and Turkish dudes clapping their hands and jumping around between the pews. Suffice to say I was like a rabbit in the headlights having pre-gig nightmares about the "play" button not working, or not being able to find the next tune as the clock was ticking down...
After that there was a little bit of a snowball effect. Necmi (Oojami) kindly asked me to DJ at a few more Hubble Bubble nights. I became one of their resident DJs for a while, even though I lived (and still do) in Dorset, and it was based in North London. And I had a good time there. It had a brilliant, open-minded crowd, and that's certainly where I developed my DJ sound - i.e. very eclectic, clubby, but with a global fusion flavour.
I then joined forces with Simon Emmerson - one of the main men behind Afro-Celt Sound System. Simon and I did a mix CD for Six Degrees Records called 'Ethnomixicology'. We called ourselves The Outernationalists and our manifesto was to show people that global dance music was just as hard hitting (if not more so) as mainstream club music, and that it didn't have to sound like exotic dinner party music at an investment banker's party. We modeled the mix CD on Coldcut's Journey's By DJ. A proper mixed global fusion album with all the bells and whistles ... imagine that ... well you can now, cos there are loads of 'em...
We DJed for Banco De Gaia's album launch party at Ocean in London and totally rocked it. Then we did gigs at the Custard Factory in Birmingham for a v popular Asian fusion/bhangra night; then a very successful charity gig in Bristol where we were the only attraction(!) ... and many people came! We also did Musicport, Larmer Tree (inc one of the best nights of my DJ career where the whole place was jumping in unison - the energy was incredible), and even a surreal private party where people dressed up in ethnic clothes and acted like colonial elitists, whilst Simon - who couldn't handle the pomposity of it all - strongly objected to someone telling us to turn off "that gypsy music" and got completely hammered whilst discussing the impending socialist revolution to some of Thatcher's very drunk children. To precis it down a bit, we did a lot of really good gigs and nearly always went down a storm.
Meanwhile I was getting the opportunity to DJ in the South Of France (two years running) in the grounds of a Chateau overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean sea (I'm trying to paint you a picture, OK?); playing in-between bands such as The Gotan Project, Ojos De Brujo, Amina Annabi, Souad Massi, Khaled, Idir, Le Peuple de l'Herbe (v popular French trip hop/dub band), and Massilia Sound System (v popular band from Marseilles). And back in the UK I DJd once again for The Gotan Project and also Misty In Roots, amongst others. I was even invited to play an after show party at the Hammersmith Odeon for the final night of an African Soul Rebels Tour (which included Rachid Taha that year).
Most of my DJ requests were coming from London. I DJd at Cargo twice for DJ Pathaan's excellent globetronica night. I DJd at Market Place just off Oxford Street on a Friday night to a bunch of very pissed and rowdy office types - thank god for the gay guys who came in and made the evening fun... Even played in HMV in Oxford Street to promote one of my compilations ... now that WAS surreal. Can't remember off-hand other shows in the capital, but I did a fair few. I also did other gigs for Oojami as part of their tour - played Glastonbury Town Hall, Bath Festival, etc. DJed in my own right in various other cities and for various people, etc etc etc. It goes on a bit, but you get the idea - I've done quite a lot...
I then joined forces with DJ UMB (now the elder statesman of Transnational Dubstep and the Generation Bass blog) and formed the Shisha Sound System DJ collective. We did various compilations together and also DJed at the Wychwood Festival, Larmer Tree, etc.
Festival-wise, well I've never really pushed myself as much as I could or possibly should, because I like what I like when it comes to festivals. However I've DJd and put on club nights at the Larmer Tree Festival for 5 (or so) years running. This is in various guises starting with The Outernationlists, then Shisha Sound System, and more recently with Hamid Mantu and Shugmonkey as The Gaslight Troubadours, and with Loftie and Shugs as The Herman Funksters. Other notable festivals include Wychwood, Sidmouth Folk Festival (one of my few folk forays - as I said, I've got eclectic tastes... warmed up the crowd for the Peatbog Faeries - excellent, rowdy night) and Beautiful Days. Oh yeah, Shambala is another one... I might remember more later, but I was also invited to DJ at Glastonbury - couldn't make it, long story ...
I can proudly say that I was the very first DJ to play at the Wychwood Festival in their inaugural year. Was packed and a blast. Full on global clubbing - those were the days ...
In recent years I've grown very fond of Tribal fusion and decided to pursue a more active career DJing at belly dance events. To recap, I had done it before with Oojami and other events that were more cabaret orientated (in other words more arabic club in overall style). I can do that style just as easily and I love arabic music (see below on how many arabic compilations I've done...), but I feel a genuine affinity to Tribal fusion at present. It's a natural style for me to play because I can introduce more hard hitting, edgy musical genres into my sets.
With that in mind I've DJd for two years running at Raqs Britannia (effectively the biggest belly dance event in Europe; last year's Tribal Club night was the highlight of my belly dance DJ career to date), and have done a Tribal night with the Firewater collective at the Belly Dance Congress (the second biggest belly dance event in the UK), and done two consecutive years at the Majma Dance Festival in Glastonbury. I've also DJd for Victoria Bone's excellent Tribal Fusion event featuring Ariellah and Samantha Emanual, and for Samantha Emanuel's weekend workshop retreat in Chagford, Devon. I'm next due to DJ for the lovely Hilde Cannodt and her new balkan-fusion band Chaos Carousel in Brighton on 23rd April. * I have done a few more things than this, but these spring to mind.
In terms of who has performed during my sets, well I've had the pleasure to work with the supremely talented Samantha Emanuel, and also The Big Neon Glitter, Dawn O'Brien, Ariellah, Kami Liddle, Sabah, Hilde Cannodt, The Uzume, Kimberly Mackoy, Darkstar, Samantha Hough, Victoria Bone, Ava Fleming (v impromptu - does it count? .. I think so - lovely Ava x), Lady Sarah Grey, and Gemma Ball. There are probably more, so huge apologies if I've forgotten anyone...
In terms of what I like to do DJ-wise (if asked)... well I really have to feel like I WANT to do an event these days - because I've done plenty of gigs when I wasn't feeling it. And I don't like to DJ too much because I want to feel inspired by the idea of what I'm doing and where I'm going. And besides, it's not my main source of income. If I'd have wanted to make a career out of it I could've bought Now That's What I Call Music 1-666 and done any old event, and earned more money - those guys earn a lot more than most people will pay at the events I want to do... but I'm in it for the love of music first and foremost and I want to be surrounded by people who feel the same way.
Anyway I've had some brilliant DJ experiences in really packed venues that are jumping. I know I can't always recapture that, but I know what I can do, and I know that if I'm promoted properly I can deliver. And here comes the crux of a problem I've been encountering more recently. If you are going to hire me, PLEASE can you promote me properly? I'm not saying that for some machismo ego trip. I'm really not. I've had enough experience to know that you really need to make a big deal out of people coming to perform at events, whether they are dancers, percussionists, bands, or DJs. People need to feel that they're coming to see something special. So there needs to be adequate promotion. Please do not misconstrue what I'm saying and why I'm saying it. I'm saying it purely because I want a decent crowd to play to, not only because it creates a fantastic vibe for me and everyone else, but because it means that hiring me has been money well spent. If you don't promote me than I cannot be held responsible for how many people stay around. I say this purely from experience and nothing else, I assure you. Promotion is vitally important. It's always better to over promote than under promote. Give people something to look forward to. And also, I'm really not doing a disco. I do a club set, or a club night. Discos went out with the eighties. Well, they still remain in place for kids at school "discos", and also retro events I suppose, but it's really a club thing that I do. I know that's a small thing, but a club night is a much better description.
Now we come to fee. I've had to drop my fee this year due to the recession. I was charging what was a very fair rate, and something that I know your average high street chart hit (read: rubbish and mediocre) DJ will easily earn per night, but I recognise that many people are trying to run events on a shoestring, and I want to help. I really do. Because I love and respect what you do. But also, although DJing is not my main source of income, it does add to my meager earnings. I do music related things 24-7 - I don't work as a solicitor or accountant by day and then be able to afford to DJ, write, and make music for nothing at night. I've chosen to follow a tough, single-minded musical path, and so I'm very grateful to people who respect that and at least give me a semi-decent fee for all the knowledge and experience that I've accumulated over the years, and my track record as a DJ.
So anyway, hopefully this post will be useful to anyone who wants to hire me, or is purely interested in what I do, or what I've done. Of course this is just the DJ side of it, but this is not the post to start warbling on about my journalistic or new production career. And all the compilations you can check below.
Thanks for your time and I hope nothing I said is misconstrued in any way, and is taken in the spirit that it was intended.